Thursday, October 20, 2011

Painting Today, What does it mean?

In an age of fast food, fast cars fast information and advanced technology, why paint? What is it that drives me to dedicate my whole life to such an antiquated practice that involves the use of long sticks with animal hair glued on the tips picking up mineral pigments suspended in oil and applying and moving this substance around and over a piece of wood or linen. Doesn't this seem awkwardly out of touch and sync with our times? There are many ways to see this issue but this has been a question I've had for some time and still I keep painting. Maybe I already answered the question without knowing it.  Of course I’m not the only one or the first to ask the question of why to paint today.

Me at my new studio in Savannah, Georgia

I remember this question really caught my imagination in a class I had at SCAD (where I did my M.F.A. in painting). The class was “Painting theories and processes” and it was taught by Professor Craig Drennen at that time. The question took me by surprise and everyone had different responses to it but what mattered most was to stop and ask why. Conceptual art delves much into the “why’s” and there is much to be learned from this simple question. Painters seldom ponder on the nature of what they do but those who do, benefit greatly from possibilities the answer may award. Many arrive to a satisfying conclusion and solid justification of why they do what they do but often have to go through a period of crisis before seeing the light. It is like entering a dark cold cavern and feeling lost and hopeless for a moment but then by persistence we may see the light at the end of the tunnel. In this cavern we may find the remnants of primitive civilizations and some of the first images made by man: paintings. By re-discovering this perpetual mystery one may be possessed by the magic, the ritual and initiation involved in the first human creations. There is something ancestral, hidden and mysterious about painting.

Cave paintings at Altamira, Spain

We can stand in awe of a masterpiece and there is a catharsis. Our imagination flies and then after a while everything falls into place, everything makes sense, just like a divinely inspired sermon on the mount. We understand, not in a rational manner but in a much more profound way.

Allegory to Prudence (2011) By Patrick McGrath Muñiz
On display at Antigua Galeria de Arte, Guatemala.

Today we are surrounded by technology and our lives seem pressed between quick consumption and working hard, making money to pay the bills. Now everything is downloaded, streamed or paid online. There are apps for everything and simulating reality on our I-phones is our means of understanding reality Life really changed with digital cameras, Photoshop, U-Tube, Facebook and our own blogs or websites. Now anyone can be an artist, writer, movie director and photographer. So where does painting fit into all of this? Even though painting has been manipulated, digitalized, uploaded, posted and downloaded, there is an essential part of painting that remains resistant to change.  There is a crafty hard-labor element about it. It requires patience, persistence and lots of different skills. Yes, there is more than one skill involved in the act of painting and many take painting as just one skill. Some of the many skills are: Drawing, composing, mixing, conveying the illusion of the third dimension (for figurative painters), creative thought, conceptual analysis, decision making and critical thought. And I’m not even mentioning all the commercial skills involved. 
My painting palette

So for those who think this is just an easy pleasant hobby-like task, think about these skills as those required for any other job. Just think of how much work goes into a painting and how easily dismissed or unnoticed it goes by the general public. Many of my paintings require days, even weeks to create. It is not uncommon to see people go by and look at a painting for less than a minute. Have TV commercials, that last less than that, injected ADHD into our minds? Or maybe it’s the 15 minute ones on U-tube.  Did I mention paintings require attention skills also?

Detail of one of my paintings "The Judgement" (2009)

By painting today I reaffirm my connection to the past, I re-connect to my primitive ritualistic origins. By painting as opposed to taking pictures with a digital camera and manipulating them in Photoshop, I insist in the importance of hard manual work in creating a unique piece of art. Even though I take many pictures, work them in Photoshop and do collages, I see these as means to an end and my end is to produce a painting.  I respect the work of digital artists and photographers as they have developed their own set of skills to make their work. Painting on the other hand is not a product of our time or recent history as photography, digital art or even conceptual art.  If one wishes to know what the meaning of painting is just have a look at the history of it and that will give you a very good sense of it. By painting today I invoke the inner abstract landscapes of the modern psyche, the spiritually elevated landscapes of Impressionism, the Baroque Catholic saints, the neo-Pagan gods of the Renaissance, the ancient Egyptian mummy portraits of Fayum and the magical animal spirits of Altamira.  Painting transcends because it deals with the spirit inhabited in matter and brings everything back to life. Without painting, we would be deprived of a vital part of our humanity. This is the main reason why I paint.
Working on my most recent project "Mcolonial Citizen" twelve retablo paintings about social inequality in  our Neo-colonial times, subject that I will write about on my next blog entry.